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Metodologia sobre la recerca sociolingüística
Autumn 2001

The Use of Catalan at Service Stations in Catalonia. Methodological guidelines,
by Josep Lluís C. Bosch, Jaume Farràs and Diego Torrente

This reasearch about linguistic uses in the domain of petrol stations had been carried on during the summer of 2000 and is based in one fundamental reality: the presencer and use of Catalan in petrol stations is very low.



1. Presentation and aims of the investigation
1.1. Description and structure of the fuel sector
1.2. Size of the universe, sample selection and design of the questionnaire
1.2.1. Creation of the questionnaire
1.2.2. Sample extraction and fieldwork

2. Creating Indexes of the Use of Catalan for the Fuel Sector
2.1. Introduction
2.2. Presentation of Three Indexes of Use
2.3. The Use of Catalan in Signs: Calculation, Interpretation and Results of Index 1
2.3.1. Creation of the Index of Catalan Use in Written Documentation
2.3.2. Creation of Index 3, Oral Use of Catalan
2.4. Relations between the Indicators of Catalan Use

3. A Few Final Thoughts

1. Presentation and aims of the investigation

The investigation into language uses in the fuel sector carried out in the Summer of 2000 was based on a central idea and observation: the presence of Catalan in service stations in Catalonia is deficient.

For the design of its methodological approach, we focused mainly on the series of stages in a visit to a service station (1). The routine begins when we pull up at the service station. Here, we come across signage, instructions and pictograms, used by the service station to display the services its offers and the way in which its machines are to be used. The petrol station also indicates the compulsory safety regulations that we must adhere to whilst on the premises. Therefore, as soon as we enter the petrol station, we automatically and/or routinely take in and interpret a whole range of oral and written messages. These are often conveyed using the communicative technique of pictograms, which appear imperceptibly and almost unconsciously.

Close observation has led us to present and analyse this act of filling up the petrol tank as the point of entry into a service station, in amongst pillars displaying the name of the service station we are entering, the brand and the services offered at that particular station. Welcoming canopies immediately invite drivers to pull up alongside the pump and dispense the fuel they require, before finally pointing them towards the staff or till area, once the product has been dispensed.

We have thus seen that the sequential movements and the routine undertaken before leaving with the tank full are envisaged beforehand. This brings us to confirm that there is a type of routine to go through, and that this is similar in most service stations. We saw the operative convenience of analysing the steps in this routine in an effort to better observe language uses. Thus we posed the question, "What is the real presence of Catalan in this communicative context"?

We took the approach of a sociolinguistic analysis of service stations by systematically observing any type of signage on the premises and by interviewing the person in charge of the service station. Our approach was simple: once we reached the service station or point of fuel sale, our task was to observe and take note of the language used in a pre-defined list of commercial and informative signs at the entrance to the premises and in other areas where services are offered: in the canopy area; at the pumps; on the walls of the premises; inside the shop or in other services.

We also deemed it necessary to note down information conveyed by logos and pictograms because this type of information is quite common in this sector, particularly due to efforts by the service station to comply with certain regulations (2). It was also important to register the language in which staff and/or cashiers greeted the interviewer. This information was also collated in the corresponding observation protocol.

1.1. Description and structure of the fuel sector

In order to approach the analysis of language use in service stations correctly, we used random, stratified extraction of a statistically significant sample of service stations in Catalonia. Before extracting our sample, we studied the structure of the sector to find out the variables that might influence language use as we would need to bear these in mind when carrying out our design.

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